Thinking small, but not small thinking

A really big guySteve Outing’s latest Editor & Publisher column tells newspapers that the new “big” for newspapers should be to think small.

Most community college newspapers already think of themselves as small, but we probably aren’t. Maybe we’re medium. I mean, a weekly newspaper with 20 or so reporters? Come on, most weekly papers across the country are smaller than that. But that is not what Outing is really talking about in his column. He’s talking about being accessible to our audiences.

Many of us would qualify, but when you think bigger about what he’s saying, we’re not all that small. How many of us open our columns or web sites to content produced by our readers, where we become merely the hub for news? We still want to control the news and let only material produced by OUR students into the paper.

Time out: Okay, we HAVE to accept that we are more than just campus newspapers. We are classes and a major role of the campus newspaper is to be a lab for our students. We are in the education business as much as we are in the news business. Yet, we may need to rethink what we need to teach based on what is happening in the industry. I will go to my grave teaching inverted pyramid (and other forms), AP style, etc., but I’ll also look at how other technologies must be introduced. Simply teaching students how to publish a printed edition may be irresponsible, if not self-defeating. And we DO have a dual role. We DO publish our campus newspapers and have some obligation to inform our readers and to turn them into consumers of news media. Time back in.

Among the suggestions Outing gives:

  • Changing the corporate brand from being a monologue with readers and allowing limited feedback looks, to a dialog.

I am still thinking about what that one means for the print edition, but the inclusion of forums, blogs, and more can be a part of the online situation. What excuse do we have –aside from fear, which I still harbor, too– in not opening our electornic editions to members of the campus community NOT enrolled in our classes.

  • Blogging from the top

Here we go again with the blogs. He’s suggesting that editors need to blog. I suggest that advisers need to blog. Maybe not as part of their publications, but as part of their educational efforts. They need to blog so that they can understand blogging. There are subtleties to be learned by doing rather than by reading about it. We’ve had that conversation on this site in the past, or was it in our faculty listserve. But who among us blogs. I stumbled across a blog by Alan Lovelace, but it appears he stopped at the end of last school year. (Mine are Rich’s Musings and Talon Marks blog.) Blogging requires a continual effort. Or join me here. I started this blog, but I’m glad to open it to others. Got a blogger account? Let me know and I’ll add you as a poster.

  • Newspapers should enter seemingly small, unusual new businesses

Again, we’ve got another mission, education. But, oh, could we get creative by linking our publications together. And we’re going to HAVE to look for ways to draw our campuses to our online editions. Our online editions have to become portals rather than mirrors of the print edition.

  • Stop being afraid to innovate.

Robert Mercer both intrigues and scares us with his full convergence attitude at Cypress College. But he’s probably the only one among us trying to innovate, except maybe those few schools that are looking at distance education. We risk making ourselves irrelevant. What if our schools no longer need a newspaper because other methods of sharing campus news develop around us? All that core teaching of journalistic values might not survive. Will your college replace you in x years when you retire?

  • Don’t hire people just to complete tasks; hire innovators

Yuck, innovative students can sometimes be described as high maintenance students because they push the boundaries and don’t want to fit into your program of what YOU learned in journalism school. Reminds me of a line from a children’s show called “Reading Rainbow” that my daughter used to watch. Host LeVar Burton (Geordi La Forge of “StarTrek: Next Generation” fame) often warned his young viewers, “Be careful, you just might learn something.”

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